NATIVE TONGUES

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A spoken word story I performed for the final day of the Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show.

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Our story begins in the negative space of an asteroid field. I am piloting my robotic chicken to brighter pastures, and my dashboard whirrs and clucks in anticipation, as I approach a dainty silver orb on the fringes of my old life.

It is a place most strange. I settle in a small industrial village overlooking wire forests and continuous chimneys. I sleep in my ship but make frequent trips into town in search of microcosms.

The aromatic smog that pours over us with a daily-shifting odour ranges from the scent of warm crops dancing through turbines, to the stagnant musk of ritual waste.

The townsfolk are eccentric, yet kind and devoutly traditional. Most of my neighbours have long, hairless faces with a central mouth framed by three docile eyes. Some walk with a trail of somber tails, others have translucent skin to showcase their pulsating innards, some are mostly bionic and others completely gaseous. Aside from frequent stares at my bobbing antlers, I feel quite comfortably alien here.

A significant proportion of the villagers are led to work by brutish beasts with tentacled mandibles which walk on rocky fists. These creatures gasp as they amble, mapping their routes with colossal droppings which I tire of tip-toeing over. As far as I can surmise, this regenerates the earth, which trembles like clockwork to denote the start of each foggy morning. 

Canteenas, chapels and charity shops stretch around ancient obelisks and plastered monuments. I can’t place what the quasi-figurative constructs are meant to represent, but it looks like there are parts missing, limbs chipped away.

Despite a relatively rowdy morale for the most part, the fourth day of the week is a shared vow of silence in which everyone carries out their business wearing featureless black masks. I’ve tried to inquire about the meaning, but my only response would be a tilted head and a tisk. On the fifth day everybody assembles in the amphitheatre to hum in unison for an hour. This reverberates through my tin chicken to make a pleasant hypnotic sound, which I wake to.

 

I somehow swung a job at a local gas tavern through what could have only been a combination of beaurocratic error and awkward charisma. It’s here that I get to listen to the pulse of people. They share the same heartaches and brainjoys of any other geographical family, but few speak of these weekly pilgrimages and mysterious monuments that I wanted so much to understand.

Everyone drinks to forget something. A luminous fuchsia concoction called “Mytzplk” is exceedingly popular, its label boasts that it is brewed from alpine dews and quasar dust, but I couldn’t tell you what it was really made of. It smelt like the outside air, sickly and sedate. 

I got talking to a giant disembodied eye who frequents the place seemingly more than the staff, each day engraving his memoirs into tablets with his laser beam vision.

“I’m Gary” said the giant disembodied eye. “Private investigator. What’s your name?”

“Erm, Duke.” I replied, which wan’t my name. I must have lied to see if he was telling the truth.

“Well Duke, you’ve certainly been drawing attention to yourself with your curiosity and cumbersome headwear.”

“actually they’re attached…”

“Well perhaps I can give you some answers since everyone else here’s near-enough given up. What is it you want to know?” His voice vibrated softly from his orbicular body.

“Why… why does the ground need constant treatment? Why is the air so thick? Why doesn’t anyone speak on fourthday and what happened to all the statues?”

He rolled his body. “Well, you see, have you ever built a sandcastle?”

I must have, but had no memory of doing so.

“Every grain of sand that makes up your temporary palace is an ancient mineral that began life as a greater body somewhere else, right?”

“..right…”

“And the tide goes in and out, in and out, only plucking the moon from the sky can stop that.”

“…yes…”

“So no matter how attached you are to your matter, you can’t take it with you. Just enjoy the loan before it’s reclaimed by the waves.”

“…well that all sounds very meaningful, but it doesn’t really answer my questions.”

“Dun’t it?”

“…”

“Well to be honest I’ve had plenty of Mytzplk. My nerves are shot and this isn’t my native tongue. Time to call it a night”

His limited features made it difficult to tell just how inebriated he was.

“…okay, well, thanks anyway Gary.”

“Son, if you really want to know, just follow the smoke signals. But you’re better off making your peace. It looks like you’re running from your own waves, if you don’t mind me saying. Well, be seeing you, Duke.”

 

That night I couldn’t sleep.The humming from days before seemed to still echo around my ship. I kept thinking of shattered fingers and piles of poo. The earth didn’t shake when it was supposed to and the city smog was silent and still. I went for walk in the wire forests, towards the cooling towers.

 I walked down the tracks, past taloned children sledding down hills on old construction signs, through winding steel estates of inorganic flora. The further I got, the fainter the desire paths became and the ebb of the settlement was gradually replaced by the quiet reverb of steam. Finally I approached the factory. It was an ornate iron keep, with walls moist with rust. I felt a warmth through the darkness and sidled passed stoic conveyor belts towards a glowing refectory. I heard one or many voices. I crossed the threshold.

 There, before me, lay one thousand heartbeats quaking together in one physical orchid. A living diagram, a fleshy atlas of impossible biological equations and anatomical glitches, a matter-transporter disaster of a tired orgy, a wailing composition of fused body parts, an amorphic entity dancing reluctantly with itself, moving nowhere. I could almost recognise the dimples and moles between the groans of agony or pleasure and recoiled at the sight of familiar faces transplanted onto this foreign form.

 A throat was cleared.

 Past the pile, looked on a centurion with a unicorn’s head reclining on a stone throne. A halberd gripped in one hand and a metronome in the other. His robes were adorned with fingers.

“I AM CECIL THE BASTARD” he bellowed “AND YOU ARE TRESPASSING ON MY DOMINION. STATE YOUR BUSINESS OR QUICKLY JOIN MY HOARD.

 His voice was a glacial guillotine. Collective murmurs unfolded into tangled speech bubbles. One whisper caught my ear with painful recollection. “Shall we go?” I could not look down, but I knew it was her. I felt a silky hand slide into mine and squeeze with a familiar softness. “Don’t look back” she whispered, “Run.”

Cecil the bastard slowly rose. He tapped his spear on the ground. He opened his jaws and spat a manic equestrian laugh.

“HAAAAHAAHAAAAAAAHAAAAAA”

 I ran, I took her hand, shut my eyes and ran. I pulled and felt her part from the pile and sprint beside me, and we ran through the wide iron halls, through the blinding steam, through wire forest as my antlers tore recklessly through the natural scaffolding, until we were out in the open.

 I squeezed her hand. It didn’t squeeze back. I opened my eyes. She wasn’t there. I held a broken stone palm, which crumbled to sand. She was never there.

 

I wondered through the clearing steam, to where I felt home should have been. But it was not there. Where the village once was was now a perfectly circular chasm. Miles wide, the gaping mouth had swallowed the town, slowly sucking the steam with it.

The only familiar signposts were the clouds of bittersweet miasma, my teetering chicken ship, some partially disintegrated bottles of Mytzplk and a sullen eyeball, perched on the precipice.

Gary gazed into the abyss. “Some socket, huh?”

“What happened?”

“Show’s over, Duke. We’re not canon anymore.”

“What?”

“Guess we were up for deletion. Low tide. Razed. Reset. New file. “

“But… wh….”

We sat in silence for some time, as I struggled to comprehend the enormity of the event.

“Are they… all gone?”

“In a manner of speaking. They’ll be back. All energy changes state, why would consciousness be the sole exception?”

“How are you alive?”

“Let’s just say there’s more to me than meets the eye!”

I felt like jumping in that hole.

“Gary, who the fuck is Cecil the bastard?”

“Eh? Oh he’s the editor. Odd sense of humour, that bloke.

“I… I thought I found a loved one.”

“Yeah, nah. He’s a bastard.”

“Was this all my fault?”

“Nah son, you were just an NPC. A tourist. Or an archiver, if you like. That’s my job. Wait for the end, take notes, better luck next time.This has been going on for a while, it’s almost a relief tha- look Duke, you just have to move on. That’s how it works around here.”

I wanted to push him in the hole, for what good it would have done. But instead I walked a lap of the lip and watched the last of the factory steam vanish down into the pit.

Gary finished beaming onto his tablet and hovered over.

“I’m sorry, son.”

“Forget it. What are you going to do now?”

“See what’s next I suppose. See if we can stop it next time. You’ll be alright. Sail on, my son.”

“See you later, Gary.” 

“See you later, Eli” He winked, and vanished.

 

I emptied the sand out of my pockets, opened a bottle of Mytzplk and got back in my ship.

3

2

1

Take off.

Back into where the asteroids once were.

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